Did Sandy save Occupy?

“>Dumb question. Occupy was already out working in the communities that were hit hardest by Sandy. That’s why they were able to leverage those contacts into a relief organization:

Four adrenaline- and caffeine-fueled weeks later, while the question of how the occupy movement’s founding values jive with relief work is still a matter of debate, there is no question how much the mammoth, headless, volunteer-run disaster-relief organization has helped people. Since those very first days, Occupy Sandy has cooked and distributed between 10 and 15 thousand meals each day; enlisted more than 7,000 volunteers; created three major distribution hubs from which it dispatches both workers and supplies; and established dozens of recovery sites in New York and New Jersey. Perhaps most stunning, the group has raised more than $600,000 in cash for its efforts and received more than $700,000 in supplies donated through repurposed online wedding registries.

In a strange way, the storm has helped the Occupy movement, too, providing the insistently non-hierarchical, tech-savvy network of protestors with an opportunity to demonstrate the values it sometimes struggled to articulate during its Zuccotti Park chapter. When it was centered around inequality in broad, theoretical terms, OWS failed to connect with many of the “99 percent” it aimed to represent, particularly the kinds of folks who live in Gerritsen Beach, Staten Island and the other working class areas that are now ground zero for Occupy Sandy.

Post-storm, the occupy movement finds itself in a position many in these neighborhoods might find more palatable. “They’re channeling all their energy into something tangible,” says Susan Healey, a 54-year-old social worker from Bay Ridge who volunteers with the group but didn’t consider herself an “occupier” back in the Zuccotti days. Necessities and the ability to quickly dispatch volunteers to where they’re needed most are apparently worth a thousand banners.

The Occupy movement is also easier to understand in motion. During the encampment, OWS was standing against something—albeit something as widely disregarded as corporate greed. Now, the group is standing for something—or, rather, running, digging, cooking, cleaning, hoisting, and organizing for something—and much of the effort clearly stems from unassailable generosity and altruism. The good they’re doing seems to have answered any remaining questions about what Occupiers meant by standing up for the “99 percent.” It’s also a rebuke to those who dismissed occupiers as lazy, unemployed kids: Yes, many of the volunteers are young, pierced and tattooed, but, clearly, slackers they are not.

By effectively blowing away the polite outer layer that usually masks the extremity of inequality, the storm handed inequality activists an almost eerily perfect illustration of exactly what they see as wrong with our world. New York and New Jersey’s shoreline communities span the economic spectrum, from the fanciest beach resorts to low-income public housing and year-round bungalows. In Far Rockaway, for instance, where Occupy Sandy is still handing out food and clothes, more than a quarter of residents have an income of less than $15,000 a year. Similarly, Coney Island, where occupy volunteers are working out of a church on Neptune Avenue, is one of the poorest neighborhoods in New York City. Just a mile or two down the beach, houses can cost many millions of dollars. While residents with means have been able to pay for the supplies and help they needed, replace what was ruined, and, most important, get out of the most affected areas when necessary, a huge swath of have-nots was cast into a struggle for survival.

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